If you touch the heart-shaped leaves and spiny stem of this plant, which is known as “gympie gympie” among Australians, you may vomit in pain!
The effect of this plant, also known as Dendrocnide moroides, is so painful, it was given to some people as “toilet paper” as a joke in history and even claimed to have killed its victims because of the pain. Legends and reports include that the horse touched the gympie gympie jumped down a hill because of unbearable pain, also a police officer could not stand the pain and committed suicide. So we can safely say that there is no joke when it comes to this plant.
Dendrocnide moroides is described as “the most feared plant in the world” by some botanists. This quite light and broad-leaved plant can also grow very quickly and can live in low-lying rainforests. Unfortunately, it is under threat due to global climate change.
Even the slightest touch to the plant can trigger severe pain and the urge to vomit. Neurotoxic chemicals, which pass from the plant to the body at the first touch, can cause severe burning in the area that feels very much like touching fire. The lymph nodes in the armpits, throat and groin begin to blister and swell in just a few minutes. Not only touching the plant but being close to it is also a threat, since the plant is constantly shedding its hairy appendages. If you are close enough to the plant, these hairs can have the same effect when they reach your body via air. It is stated that the defense mechanism of the plant is so strong that even touching a plant that has been dead for years can cause the same effects.
Scientists trying to study the plant also face great difficulties. The smallest contact causes serious trouble even if they use safety clothing and gloves. Scientists researching gympie gympie often complain about symptoms such as nosebleeds, involuntary and constant sneezing. Moreover, the effect of the neurotoxin, such as the rashes that may appear in the contact area, can continue for a period ranging from days to months. The amount of neurotoxin you get from just touching the plant is enough to easily kill a human, a dog, or a horse!
Aside from the myths we mentioned above, there are also well-reported examples: For instance, a person who fell on the plant and touched the face and abdomen for a short time reported the following effects:
The pain during the first 2-3 days was unbearable. I could neither sleep nor work and severe pain continued for 14 days. However, the stinging pain that started the first day took 2 years to completely disappear. Every time I took a cold shower, I felt it again. There’s nothing that can compete with the pain it brings. It is at least 10 times worse than the worst pain you know.
It was determined that the chemical responsible for this stinging sensation was a substance called “moroidin“. This chemical is formed by an unusual carbon-nitrogen bond between tryptophan and histidine. Although there is no definite cure for the pain, it is recommended to remove the needles from the body immediately and to apply 1 to 10 diluted hydrochloric acid to the place where the needles are stuck.
A final case is researcher Marina Huxley, who has been working on plants for 3 years and was affected by the plant despite wearing protective clothing. The painful burning and stinging sensation lasted for hours, and she constantly sneezed, her eyes watered, her nose ran. However, the severity of the symptoms began to increase as she continued to work with the gympie gympie. Therefore, she once had to be hospitalized and treated with steroids to suppress the terrible symptoms.
References & Further Reading
- E. Inglis-Arkell. If You Touch This Plant It Will Make You Vomit In Pure Agony. (26 Mart 2015). Access Date: 31 Ocak 2019. Reference URL: Gizmodo | Archive Link
- L. Hales. Factsheet: Gympie-Gympie. (4 Şubat 2014). Access Date: 31 Ocak 2019. Reference URL: Australian Geographic | Archive Link
- Wikipedia. Dendrocnide Moroides. (29 Ocak 2019). Access Date: 31 Ocak 2019. Reference URL: Wikipedia | Archive Link